Ultimate Guide to Full Subject-Based Banding (SBB)
Everything you need to know about subject-based banding – what it is, the expected impact on students, and how to max out your chances of success in the new system.
Table of Content
- Secondary Admission: What will be the new secondary school admission process with subject-based banding?
- Subjects: What subjects will lower secondary students study?
- Subject Levels: Instead of the initial subject level offered, can students study at other subject levels at sec 1?
- Changing Subject Level: What if wrong choices were made at the point of admission (ie subjects too tough or easy for the student)?
- Upper Secondary Streaming: Is there still secondary 2 streaming with subject-based banding?
- National Exams: Are there still O or N levels exam with full subject-based banding?
- Post-Secondary Admission: How will JC & Poly admission criteria change with subject-based banding?
- Pros and Cons: Subject-based banding – really helpful for students or not?
- Next Steps: How to max out your chances of academic success with subject-based banding?
SUBJECT-BASED BANDING (SBB)
What will be the new secondary school admission process with subject-based banding?
Based on the PSLE score, the student will belong to 1 of 3 posting groups and assessed for admission eligibility.
- For posting group 3, students will have an overall PSLE score of 4-20
- For posting group 2, students will have an overall PSLE score of 23 / 24
- For posting group 1, students will have an overall PSLE score of 26-30
Students with a score of 21 or 22 can choose to apply as part of posting group 2 or 3.
Likewise, for students who score 25 points, they can choose to apply under posting group 1 or 2.
Example 1: How will a 10 point student apply to secondary school via subject-based banding?
💡 There are schools such as Raffles Institution, which only accept students from posting group 3
As part of posting group 3, the student can consider the different schools’ cut-off ranges when listing their school choices. Using the above illustration, it may be more difficult to get into school A than B because A’s cut-off range is 4-11 but B’s ranges from 13-19
SUBJECT-BASED BANDING (SBB)
What subjects will lower secondary students study under subject-based banding?
There are 2 broad groups of subjects: non-academic and academic.
- For non-academic subjects eg Art, students do not have to make any decisions as there is only 1 common subject level.
- For academic subjects eg English, there are 3 subject levels and the default subject level will be determined by the student’s overall PSLE score and posting group. Students will have the choice to change their initial subject level offered.
Example 2: What subject levels will a 21 point student be offered?
Referring to the above illustration, the student can apply to school C as part of posting group 3 or apply to school B as part of posting group 2
- Applying to posting group 3 will mean the default subject level offered for most of the academic subjects will be G3 (equivalent to Express standard).
- Applying to posting group 2 will mean the default subject level offered for most of the academic subjects will be G2 (equivalent to N(A) standard).
SUBJECT-BASED BANDING (SBB)
Instead of the initial subject level offered, can students study at other subject levels at sec 1?
For non-Humanities subjects eg English, you can opt for G3 and G2 difficulty if your PSLE AL for the particular subject is 1-5 or 6 respectively.
Opting for easier subject level is also possible and for
- “Students who face exceptional difficulties coping with learning their Mother Tongue Languages”
- “Students who (are) offered English, Mathematics and/or Science at Foundation level at PSLE”
For Humanities, there is no alternative subject level option. Students have to take what is offered.
Opting for something different from the default is not guaranteed and subject to further consultation & approval from the school.
Example 3: Can a 14 point student study at G2 level with full subject-based banding?
With a score of 14, the student would qualify in posting group 3 for school C. So, most of the subject levels offered will be at the G3 level.
However, it seems like the student is not yet ready to take on the Mother Tongue Language and Science at the G3 level and goes ahead to opt for G2 (equivalent to N(A) standard).
Example 4: Can a 25 point student study at G3 level?
With a score of 25, the student would be in posting group 1 for school A admission.
Although most of the subject levels offered will be at the G1 level, the student can opt to take math at the G2 level as his grade is AL6.
This student can also opt for science at either the G2 or G3 level as his grade is AL3.
What if wrong choices were made at the point of admission?
Students need time to adjust to the tougher subject levels and MOE advises students to continue till the end of secondary 2 before changing. But students may still opt for easier subject levels if they are struggling badly.
As at 2023 before full SBB is rolled out, students have opportunities to opt for tougher subject levels at various junctures based on their performance in school
- Mid-point of Secondary 1
- End of Secondary 1
- End of Secondary 2
With full SBB, TFX believes that there may be an additional juncture available at the end of Secondary 3. But, there will unlikely be any junctures for change during sec 4 as that will be too disruptive for the student taking the SEC exam who will need time to adjust to the new syllabus. However, this is not yet official on the MOE site.
If there’s any special circumstances or pressing need to take subjects at a tougher or easier level, you should raise it up with the school and consult for their advice.
Is there still secondary 2 streaming with subject-based banding?
There is no longer streaming. But choices still have to be made at this juncture. Effective from the 2026 sec 3 cohort, students have compulsory subjects to take as well as elective subjects that will be offered to them.
- Compulsory subjects
- English language
- Mother tongue language
- Science (for students in mostly G1 subjects, they have the choice to opt for Computing instead of Science)
- Elective subjects
- Additional Mathematics
- Design & Technology
- History (other than History, some subjects are not offered at the G1 level)
This is an important checkpoint as this will determine the syllabus content of the SEC exam.
Think hard about 2 things
- What elective subjects to take?
- What subject level to take for the various compulsory and elective subjects – to maintain or change?
Switching during or at the end of sec 3 will be disruptive – requiring the student to readjust to a new class, new teacher, new friends, and relearn what content will be tested
Are there still O or N levels exam with full subject-based banding?
The Singapore-Cambridge Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) exam replaces the O and N Levels effective from the 2027 sec 4 cohort.
- All students will sit for the SEC exam regardless of their initial posting group but based on the subject level they opt for each subject
- SEC will reflect the subjects & subject level taken by the students similar to the A-Level examinations
How will JC & Poly admission criteria change with subject-based banding?
- For Poly, students today have to take five G3 subjects to be eligible for admission.
- For JC, there is no change to existing criteria.
But, note that “Changes to post-secondary admissions will be progressively introduced and fully implemented by the Academic Year 2028 admissions, to better recognise students’ different combinations of subjects and subject levels” according to MOE. So stay tuned!
Subject-based banding - really helpful for students or not?
- Opportunity to opt for subjects at tougher or easier levels VS previously, students are all in on 1 of 3 streams – whether Express, Normal Academic or Normal Technical
- More opportunities to make friends via different subject classes
- More decisions to be made on a yearly basis VS previously was at 2 critical junctures – before admission into secondary school & during sec 2 streaming
Many parents are worried that their kids may end up being distracted by their naughtier classmates.
But, this is a risk common to any class – even before subject-based banding (SBB) was implemented. In any class, there will be naughtier and less naughty students. What is more important is the teacher’s intervention in establishing the appropriate behaviour in class. But since there’s no alternative to opt out of the assigned teacher, there’s no point worrying about this.
How to max out your chances of academic success with subject-based banding?
There are a few key decisions you would make that would have an outsized impact on your secondary school life including
- Which is better – going to a ‘lousier’ school in a higher posting group or ‘tougher’ school in a lower posting group?
- What is the starting subject level to go for?
- When to change the subject level to a tougher or easier level?
Which option to go for - tougher school but easier posting level Or easier school but tougher posting level?
For instance, how should a student with a score of 21 apply – go for School B in posting group 2 or go for School C in posting group 3?
Tough decisions are tough because somehow you know both decisions will possibly work well. You are thinking
- The probability of success will be higher in a ‘better’ school with a tougher cut-off point range
- The probability of success will be higher in a ‘better’ class with a tougher subject level
Here at TFX, we recommend gathering other information to help you decide which is the better choice? Think about
- Academic Reputation: Look into the school’s past year academic performance in preparing students for national exams.
- Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs): Look into the range of CCAs offered by the school and examine their past year national competition records. For example, if you are a pro swimmer, you want to get into a school with a record of producing national swimmers.
- Location: As it can affect your daily commute time to and fro home or enrichment classes.
- Special Programmes: Some secondary schools in Singapore offer specialized programmes, such as Integrated Programme (IP), the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, or the Gifted Education Programme (GEP).
- Recommendations: Consider asking for recommendations from family members, friends, or teachers who may have insights into the different schools.
What is the starting subject level to go for?
Knowing yourself, if you
- Have a tendency to be more fearful or overthink, then go for the tougher subject level.
- Are the hardworking sort and is already at 120% then pushing further will not help.
Aside from the above, TFX recommendation is to take things a little tougher at the start – to engage your mind more rigorously and grow more. Tougher subject levels typically work better for motivated students. And if the tougher option doesn’t work out, it’s ok to drop a level down. At least, you tried and you know it.
Starting at an easier subject level is fine if you want to focus on non-academic pursuits eg CCA or perhaps already struggling at the recent PSLE exams. It may be better to take a slower pace to regain your confidence that you can do well. Here at TFX, we believe students have poor grades because
- They have tried so many times and failed. So, they have given up trying.
- They do not understand what was taught in the beginning. With a shaky foundation, anything learnt subsequently is poorly mastered.
When to change the subject level to a tougher or easier level?
Consider the below 3 factors:
- Results: What’s your latest results? What’s your past result trends for the year?
If this is just your first poor grade, you have to press on a little. It is normal for grades to drop during the transition phase.
If your results have been consistently dropping in the past year, what will you be doing to reverse this trend? Dropping the subject level might help but there’s a root cause you need to figure out too.
- Emotions: Is there any drastic change in the student’s mood? Is the student always moody or upset? Is the student easily irritable?
If so, students are not adjusting well to the class and intervention is required. Changing the subject level is one way out.
- Recommendations: Find out more from the form teacher how the student behaves in class – whether withdrawn or engaging well.
Final note on subject-based banding
Subject-based banding (SBB) is but one of many tools offered by MOE to students and parents. You can choose to use it to help yourself or use other tools – and that’s perfectly fine. Making an informed decision is like forming a jigsaw puzzle – you start off with some pieces of your own (representing your goals and interests), then you try to find other pieces that match. There are 13 ways to do anything and 11 will work so worry not.
Find out how to study better with our free math notes and study techniques here